Houston Nutt Buries Hugh Freeze in New Lawsuit

Houston Nutt was fired by Ole Miss in 2011 after going 2-10 in his final season with the Rebels. Now he’s suing the university alleging breach of contract and breach of good faith as well as seeking punitive damages. Why is Nutt filing this lawsuit? Because he believes top Ole Miss administrators and current head coach Hugh Freeze, Nutt’s replacement as head football coach, sought to blame him for NCAA violations he didn’t commit to preserve their top 2016 recruiting class.

Nutt’s allegations are so specific and damning that it’s virtually impossible to see how Freeze keeps his job. Freeze has claimed he did nothing wrong, but here Nutt alleges a string of lies that connect back directly to Freeze.

Ole Miss, pursued by NCAA investigators ever since Freeze’s massive recruiting haul back in 2013, a class so freighted in suspicion that Freeze memorably sent a since deleted Tweet asking for people to report alleged violations to Ole Miss compliance and stop spreading lies about NCAA violations, was caught in wrongdoing by the spring of 2016. The wrongdoing was connected to that 2013 class including three out of state five star recruits — Robert Nkemdiche, Laquon Treadwell and Laremy Tunsil — the latter of whom would admit to being paid by the school at his draft day press conference in the wake of the release of a video of him smoking pot in a gas mask. (God bless SEC football). But Ole Miss didn’t want anyone to know about these NCAA findings of wrongdoing. Why? Because according to Houston Nutt’s complaint, the notice of allegations arrived just before the 2016 signing day and Ole Miss’s 2016 class was another top ten collection of talent.

So according to the complaint filed by Houston Nutt, Freeze and Ole Miss administrators embarked upon a calculated spin campaign by reaching out to prominent voices in the college football landscape to allege that most of the alleged NCAA violations involved Houston Nutt’s regime or didn’t involve football at all.

Those media writers then advanced what Nutt calls a false narrative — college football’s own version of fake news, that Freeze wasn’t involved in NCAA propriety — and this allowed Freeze and Ole Miss to sign the highly talented 2016 recruiting class. By the time the news came out about the trouble Ole Miss faced, including the fact that Hugh Freeze bore personal responsibility for it, the 2016 class was already signed. Indeed, recruits abandoned the Rebels in droves the next year leading to a disastrous 39th best recruiting class in 2017.

The complaint is lacerating in its detail of Freeze and other top administrator’s actions. For instance, Houston Nutt, in a move that long time SEC fans will find tremendously ironic given Nutt’s own phone record foibles, obtained Freeze’s cell phone records and traces the spread of the false narrative that Freeze’s own regime was not involved in NCAA violations based on the calls Freeze made to media. Check out how specific some of the allegations are. Nutt doesn’t name the sports writers Freeze called in his complaint, but it’s easy to figure out who they are based on the specificity of the articles and Tweets cited.

How did Nutt and his lawyers know the writer’s numbers? I assume Nutt had many of the writer cell phone numbers stored in his own phone already. So he could just scan the list looking for contacts he knew and then go review what those writers wrote or Tweeted about the Ole Miss case. Or he could have had paralegals blindly dialing all the numbers of Freeze’s contacts looking for media contacts. Love him or hate him, the degree of specificity in this complaint has a ton of big names sweating. And it’s hard to refute that Ole Miss embarked upon a calculated campaign to try and convince the nation, via college football writers, of Hugh Freeze’s innocence.

This is, quite frankly, how stories are reported. Coaches and administrators frequently call writers, request that their names not be used, and then share their versions of a story or provide a tip or suggestion for a future story. It’s how news is made. Fans often complain about anonymous sources in sports stories — and other media stories — but the reality is the coaches or top administrators are quite frequently the sources themselves. Just as coaches choose to trust or not trust certain writers based on past relationships, writers do the same. If a coach or administrator burns a writer on a false story like this, the writer will never go public with the source of the incorrect information, but it may very well spell an end to a trusting relationship between a writer and a program.

Here Freeze and Ole Miss administrators clearly misled writers to help preserve his 2016 recruiting class and I would imagine that many writers felt used and will be less likely to trust Freeze going forward.

Some coaches call writers all the time.

Others do it rarely, if at all.

Houston Nutt believes that Freeze calls writers all the time, taking aim at Freeze’s obsession with his public image in the very complaint itself.

Nutt’s motives are not pristine here — he’s clearly bearing a cavalcade of grudges — but just because someone is motivated by bitterness and rancor doesn’t mean a lawsuit lacks validity. Nutt feels that he was wrongly blamed by Ole Miss coaches and administrators and he just unleashed his entire arsenal in this complaint, filed THE DAY BEFORE HUGH FREEZE ADDRESSES 1000 SEC MEDIA AT SEC MEDIA DAYS. To be honest, it’s gloriously maniacal in its gleeful derision. But it’s also devastating and rooted in a great deal of truth.

Put simply, I don’t know how Hugh Freeze keeps his job.

For months Ole Miss has argued Freeze wasn’t involved in NCAA violations, but Nutt lays out a clear and convincing case here that Freeze was involved in lying about his own staff’s involvement in alleged NCAA impropriety to keep the recruiting class of 2016 intact. Leaving a big question without an easy answer for Ole Miss faithful: If Freeze would lie to preserve his top recruiting class, why wouldn’t he also lie to preserve his job?

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